Publicness, Pervasive Technologies and a History of Shit


Session Title:

  • Art and Activism in Digital Age

Presentation Title:

  • Publicness, Pervasive Technologies and a History of Shit




  • In the work of Hannah Arendt, the political realm arises out of acting together, in the sharing of speech and action. There has been much recent interest in revisiting Arendt’s ideas, in relation to a reconceptualisation of publicness. In Virno’s work, for instance, this is emphasized because of the relative ineffectiveness of political action today. Proprietary technologies arguably play a significant role here in distancing speech from affect in a situation where action and words have lost their power (to echo Arendt). But what of software more specifically, in as much as it both expression as in speech or writing but also something that performs actions? For Kelty, again referring to Arendt, the free software movement is an example of what he calls a “recursive pubic”, to draw attention to emergent and self-organizing public actions. Moreover, publicness is constituted not simply by speaking, writing, and protesting, but also through modification of the domain or platform through which these practices are enacted. And ordure? The quirky intervention of Dominique Laporte, in History of Shit (first published in French in 1978) verifies that modern power is founded on the aesthetics of the public sphere and in the agency of its subjects but that these are conditions of the management of human waste. The issue is that in parallel to the cleansing of the streets of Paris from shit (as it became privatized), the French language was similarly cleansed of foreign words. Can we say the same of software: that the kinds of software that are found on the streets (installed in mobile devices and such-like) are similarly cleansed? This issue is crucial for a fuller understanding of political expression in the public realm and the ways in which social intellect is ever more privatised through the use of pervasive technologies.

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